Lost and Found: Florida's Metal Detector Fanatics Fight High Tide and Murky Laws

Brian Deutzman braces himself against the pounding surf just off South Beach and slowly waves his fluorescent-colored metal detector underwater. His eyes narrow as faint electronic beeps resonate in his oversize headphones. Tall, pale, and draped in a thin white shirt, he looks like a combination of a hipster Ghostbuster and an actual ghost. Beachgoers point and laugh while children swim around in circles, trying to find out what he's looking for.

Wooomp. Deutzman freezes as he hears a long robotic tone. The 24-year-old scavenger finds plenty of trash, from rusted batteries to soda can tabs to enough pennies to cancel out a thousand wishes. But that noise means he's found something larger. It's the same tone he heard when he nabbed a priceless 19th-century watch and when he stumbled upon a full diamond grill.

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.